Malaysia Airlines crash victims' bodies leave Donetsk on a refrigerated train
UN Security Council passes resolution demanding international access to MH17 crash site and a ceasefire around the area
A refrigerated train carrying Malaysia Airlines victims' bodies has left a rebel-held town in eastern Ukraine, one small step forward in easing the agony of their grieving families.
In an emotional inspection hours earlier, Dutch experts called for a full forensic sweep of the Flight 17 crash site and told the armed separatists controlling the area that the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.
Four days after someone shot the Boeing 777 out of the sky, killing 298 people, pressure was growing on Russian president Vladimir Putin to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane.
The US, Ukraine and others say Moscow has armed the rebels, a charge Russia denies.
In Washington, president Barack Obama demanded that international investigators get full access to the crash site and accused the separatists of removing evidence and blocking investigators.
"What exactly are they trying to hide?" Mr Obama asked, a day after the US presented what it called "powerful" evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile.
At the UN in New York, the Security Council has passed an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the crash site and a ceasefire around the area.
The UN Security Council has approved a resolution calling for an international investigation into the Malaysia Airlines plane downed in Ukraine.
It came after Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said his nation backed the resolution, effectively assuring it would pass.
Diplomats had pressured a reluctant Moscow to approve the Australia-proposed resolution that demands international access to the crash site and a ceasefire around the area.
Fighting flared again between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk, 30 miles to the west of the crash site. City authorities said battles took place near the town's airport.
After the train with the bodies left the town of Torez, two military jets flew overhead and black smoke was seen rising in the distance.
Fighting began in mid-April in eastern Ukraine after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimean peninsula a month earlier.
There is great concern in the Netherlands about the bodies, since 192 of the plane's 298 victims were Dutch and another was Dutch-American. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said repatriating the bodies is his "number one priority".
A reporter saw the train with the bodies leaving Torez, a rebel-held town nine miles from the crash site, and overheard rebels saying it was heading for the rebel-held town of Ilovaysk. The Ukrainian government later said the train was eventually heading to a crisis centre in the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv.
282 bodies recovered
In farm fields near the eastern village of Hrabove, Peter van Vliet, leader of the Dutch National Forensic Investigations team in Ukraine, said seeing the crash site gave him goosebumps despite the heat. Workers recovered more bodies from the site today, bringing the total to 282, according to Volodymyr Groisman, Ukraine's deputy prime minister.
The Dutch team - which specialises in victim recovery and identification - saw some victims' remains still rotting in the fields of the crash site. They also inspected piles of passenger luggage, suggesting that they be put in a container and shipped out.
At Torez train station, the Dutch investigators stood for a moment with their heads bowed and their hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect the train cars, surrounded by armed rebels.
Journalists said the smell of decay was overwhelming at the station and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to their faces on the sunny, 29C day. A Ukrainian train engineer said a power outage had hit the railway carriages' refrigeration system for several hours overnight.
In Kharkiv, another team of international experts arrived, including 23 Dutch, three Australians, two Germans, two Americans and one from the UK.
The US evidence that the rebels were involved in downing the plan included video of a rocket launcher with one surface-to-air missile missing leaving the likely launch site; imagery showing the firing; phone calls claiming credit for the missile strike; and phone recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.
"A build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence ... it's powerful here," said US secretary of state John Kerry. "Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists."
Mr Putin lashed out against the criticism, accusing others of exploiting the downing of the plane for "mercenary objectives".
He said Russia was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency, to investigate the scene. He again criticised Ukrainian authorities in Kiev, saying they had reignited the fighting with rebels after a unilateral ceasefire expired without progress on peace talks.
The head of counterintelligence for Ukraine's SBU security service, Vitaliy Najda, has said the Buk missile launchers came from Russia and called on Moscow to supply the names of the service personnel "who brought about the launch of the missile" so they could be questioned. He said the rebels could not have operated the sophisticated weapon without Russian help but did not provide specific evidence for his claim.
In Moscow, Russian officials offered evidence to counter claims that the rebels were responsible for shooting down the jet. The Defence Ministry showed photos they said proved that Ukrainian surface-to-air systems were operating in the area before the crash - nine times alone on Thursday, the day the plane was brought down.
Russian officials also said they had evidence that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet had flown "between 3 to 5 kilometers" from the Malaysia Airlines jet.
Rebels to give up black boxes
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says that the leader of the pro-Russian rebels has agreed to hand over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators who are in Ukraine.
Mr Najib also said that the remains of 282 of the crash victims currently in Torez are being moved by train to Kharkiv in Ukraine, where they will be handed over to Dutch authorities.
The remains will then be flown to Amsterdam.
Mr Najib added that, as part of an agreement he reached with rebel leader Alexander Borodai, independent international investigators will be given "safe access" to the crash site.
In a hastily arranged news conference at his residence, Mr Najib said that following any necessary forensic work, the remains of the 43 Malaysian citizens who were on the plane would be flown to their home country.
"I must stress that although an agreement has been reached, there remain a number of steps required before it is completed," Mr Najib said. "There is work still to be done, work which relies on continued communication in good faith. Mr Borodai and his people have so far given their co-operation."
Anger and resentment toward the Russian-backed rebels and Moscow have been escalating worldwide, including in Malaysia, where there have been calls for economic sanctions against Moscow.
Mr Najib said yesterday that the remains of the Malaysian victims must be returned to Malaysia before the Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. This year, it falls on the 28th.
Belfast Telegraph Digital